Eden's Future

an excerpt

Prologue



He hated his life.

Elias Montrose had always done what was expected of him. As an impressionable child, he'd been the apple of his mother's eye, as well as his father's pride and joy, their hope for the future. They'd raised him to have manners, class, even sending him to military school to learn a regimented work ethic. After all, if he was going to inherit the family business--Montrose's Department Store, which had been on the same block on Eve Avenue in Eden, Pennsylvania for nearly 100 years--he had best be disciplined. As an adult, he'd stayed the course by marrying the right girl, producing two children. When the second one turned out to be a boy, he'd earned his father's praise again. The Montrose legacy would continue.

But some nights, mostly when he was feeling lonely, behind the locked door of his home office, Elias dreamed of being the man he wished he could be. At his computer, he would fire up photographs of men. Men with their clothes off, men having sex with other men, and he would slide his hand down his pants and take hold of his hardened cock, and he would stroke it until relieved. He would close his eyes and dream of himself with these fantasy men, wondering how their hard, muscled bodies would feel against his naked skin. He would then slink shamefully off to bed, slipping beneath the warm blankets, his back turned to his slumbering wife.

He had money, he had a family, and he had security.

What he lacked was the elusive thing called happiness. Because Elias Montrose felt like he was not living his own life. He was living the one his father had mapped out for him from birth.

All that changed inside him when he learned a bitter truth about the imperious man.

As he sat by himself at the bar of the Snake Pit, the local dive bar, downing his third beer of the night, Elias ignored the action around him, concentrating on what had brought him here. He didn't make a habit of hanging out at such a dive, sitting among Eden's scruffy riff raff. He'd been taught better. Except the polished, nosy country club set was not what he sought tonight. Feeling anonymous, doing only what he wanted, that's the kind of night Elias, for once, felt like experiencing. It's not like he'd gone to a gay bar, even had Eden one.

Still, the idea of a sexual fling was tempting. Maybe that's why he'd come here.

"Another one, Mr. Montrose?"

Elias looked up and saw the mustached bartender staring at him.

"Oh, uh, sure."

Even in these dark quarters he couldn't fully escape who he was. If you run the most popular clothing store in town, everyone eventually goes through your doors. He recognized the T-shirt the guy was wearing. From the 9.99 rack.

The bartender, whose name he didn't know, served him up another draft and told him this one was on the house. Elias nodded gratefully while he took his first sip. He'd not had dinner. The effects were starting to hit, leaving Elias with a strange, out of body sensation. It was nice. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been drunk. He was always the responsible one, taking care of everyone around him. Parents, wife, children. Never taking the time for him. He was the designated bore.

Fuck that.

If his father could live a dual life, why couldn't he?

Elias had been roaming the aisles at Montrose's earlier today, shaking hands with loyal customers and recommending the latest styles. Upstairs sat his father, going over the books. It was the man's only connection to the store these days--the finances, of course. Otherwise, the daily operation of the store fell to Elias. On his way back to the office upstairs, Elias halted his steps when he heard his father on the phone.

"Yes, I can't wait either. A few more days, then we can be together. I love you, too."

He back-tracked quietly, not wanting to intrude, certainly not wanting his father to know he'd overheard him. Because one thing was certain: Leonard Montrose had not been on the cell with his wife, Sarah. She was downstairs behind the counter, ringing up customers. She liked to do that on the days Len did the books. A team, the two of them, like it always had been. Except now Elias knew that wasn't reality.

The truth was inescapable: His father had a mistress.

A roar of laughter brought Elias out of his trance and he looked up. On the television a baseball game was playing and one of the Phillies had just hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth, thrilling the locals. The men gathered around him high-fived, as though the achievement on the field had been all their doing. Elias attempted a smile but no one was paying him any attention. The local chief of police seemed to have command of the room, he noticed. A macho hero among the put-upon working class.

Elias turned to his right, and that's when he noticed someone new at the bar. Not more than twenty-three or four was his guess, with fair features and a sweet, innocent looking face. He ordered a beer and then leaned against the bar. He kept to himself, drinking alone. Elias found himself drawn to the man, booze fueling an attraction. What if he just went up to the guy, started to talk to him. Not that his gaydar was anything of note, but he had a sense this guy swung that way. He sat there, taking another sip, anticipating what he would say. He felt sweat on his brow, on his palms. He wiped them on his pants while hoping to stem the growing erection in his pants. He looked away, trying to think of an opening line. But when he turned back, another person was blocking his way. The young man was suddenly engaged in conversation.

From that moment, Elias watched the dance between the two men.

It was subtle, nothing that anyone else might detect. Buying him a drink on the pretense of small-town courtesy. Finding out he was just passing through, welcoming him to town before excusing himself to go back to hanging with the sports lovers. Watching as the visitor sought the restroom, witnessing the other man separate himself from the group and headed toward the same destination. He was the first to return, followed moments later by the guest. He could see fire in the one man's eyes, a nervous heat in those of the visitor. Something had transpired in the men's room.

So he'd been right about the young guy. He was gay.

What surprised him was the identity of the aggressor, none other than Brett Ellers, the local chief of police. Big and brawny, beer swilling, baseball loving, and no doubt a secret that he liked to be with men. Angry all over again, Elias drank down his beer. Did everyone in Eden live a double-life? Why was he relegated to always doing the proper thing? He threw some cash down on the bar and left, needing some air.

He'd parked across the street. He approached his car, wondered if he should be driving. Unsure what to do, not wanting to go home, he sat behind the wheel of his car. That's when he saw Brett step out into the warm night and head directly to his car. He turned on the engine but he went nowhere either. Five minutes passed, and then emerged the young man from the bar. Brett flashed his headlights and the man went to the car, easily slipping inside. Elias watched as they kissed hungrily.

He blanched at such a sight. It was one thing to watch two men together on the Internet. But the live thing, it was hotter, visceral. Elias's erection raged inside his pants at the thought of these two men having hot, anonymous sex. With the booze still swirling through his bloodstream, Elias Montrose was let go of his staid self. So when Brett drove off, so too did he, and what he did shocked even himself.

He followed them.

***

The destination was both surprising and for Elias, ironic.

The carriage house on the Edenwood estate, approached from the back of the property. A secret entrance for a secret tryst. Elias had had to double-back on the dark road, not wanting to give away the fact that he was trailing them in such a deserted area. So by the time he parked, the two men had gone through the tangled woods, and so when he had crawled his way to the house, staring through the window, the men were already undressing each other.

"You're really cute, with a great body," Brett was telling the guy.

And it was true. The guy was small, wiry, with coiled muscles on his sturdy frame.

Brett was undoing the buttons of his own shirt, and when he pulled it away he revealed a chest covered with a dense blanket of dark hair. The guy reached out and ran a hand though the dark mat, saying, "This turns me on so much. I couldn't keep my eyes off your chest at the bar."

"So I noticed."

The guy thrust his face into the dark whorls, licking it, indulging its manly furriness. Brett grabbed at him, cupping his ass. It was only just the beginning.

They started kissing, Brett's strong, hairy arms taking possession of the fair man and leading him to the large bed. Elias, dry-mouthed, his blood pulsing inside his veins, continued to watch, a small portion of his brain telling him to leave. He shouldn't be here. This wasn't his business. But his cock thickening inside his pants said otherwise, and right now it ruled him. He undid his pants and let them fall to his ankles. He grabbed hold of his exposed cock but waited before stroking it. He wanted to wait for the hot action. Wouldn't it be more fun to come when they did?

They wasted little time. Both were naked, both on the bed.

Brett had a thick, impressive cock. He lay on his back while the other guy went down on it, sucking it. He thrust his hips upward, shoving the entire thing inside. When the guy pulled up, he wiped his lips.

"That's a lot to take."

"Just wait till I fuck you."

The guy went down on the cock again, sucking it while his hands wandered up. His hands grazed Brett's chest. Brett urged him on, bucking wilding, holding his head down so he received each hard thrust. At last Brett cried out, the guy released his hold on the cock, and together the two men watched as Brett blew a heavy load into the air, most of it landing on his furry belly.

"Lick it," Brett insisted.

The guy did as he was told, and suddenly Elias felt an eruption of his own happening. A hot spew of come shot out of his cock and he had to stifle a cry so as not to be discovered. He let his come seep into the ground around him. Satisfied, satiated, Elias knew he should leave. He had seen enough, hadn't he? But when he saw Brett position the young man onto the bed, his hairy body looming above him, his cock still thick and hard, he knew he'd be staying to witness the main attraction. Brett was about to fuck this guy hard. And he did. Elias watched the impact of Brett's cock slamming into the guy's ass, heard the cry of pleasure, imagined it was him on the receiving end. While he found he wasn't necessarily attracted to Brett--the fur was just too much--there was something beastly to their actions, their grunts, and his cock thickened again. He knew he'd shoot his load again.

The sex between them was hot, lustful, with the bottom taking each hungry thrust with an insatiable want. Brett, having come already, lasted a long while, his pounding seemingly without end. He continued to fuck, hard, hungry, almost angry. Elias's mind took him back years, to the one night he'd shared with his old friend, Chad, the only sexual experience he'd shared with a man. They had sucked each other's cocks and would have done so much more if it hadn't been for the man who interrupted them. He hadn't thought of Chad in years. He remembered his kiss, and he recalled the large cock he'd been blessed with.

"Oh shit, oh shit, you hairy beast, fuck me, hard, oh yeah...harder..."

Elias was jarred from his memory by the sound of the guy's craving. Brett gave him all he asked for, his sweaty body heaving above him, his cock sliding in, out, in out, in rapid fashion. He held the guys ankles, his legs split open. Hands grabbed at Brett's chest hair. Brett urged him to pull harder, and the man did so, which only sent Brett's hips into another round of heated thrusts

Elias hungrily stroked his cock.

He could tell both men were close, and he wanted to share the moment.

A moment that wouldn't happen.

"What the fuck..."

What happened next was like a dream, floating in a time that you couldn't cling to. Their sexual coupling was interrupted by the arrival of a man. Elias of course knew him, even drunk as he was. Silas Singleton. It seemed he had a habit of doing this, finding men in the throes of passion. How Elias wanted to run, how he wished not to witness this. It was too painful, the past roaring back to him with a powerful vengeance.

Brett and the stranger's night was ended by the arrival of Silas.

Bitter words were exchanged, clothes were gathered up. A shattering of glass occurred.

Brett and the man ran into the woods, dashing right by Elias, whom they failed to see.

The drunken Silas stumbled out of the carriage house, the moonlight following him. Elias then knew he had to leave the grounds as well. He was making his way back when he heard the splash. He stopped in his tracks, wondering what he should do. Had Elias fallen into the pool? If so, could he really leave him there? He would die.

He hated the man, almost as much as he hated his father.

Both had ruined his life

Elias doubled back, running along the dewy grass until he'd come to the pool. He saw Silas lying at the edge of the pool, in the moonlight noticed ripples still cresting over the surface of the water. He sighed, thankful that the man hadn't fallen in. But his head was wet, his hair plastered against his face.

"Silas, are you okay?" he asked, slapping at his face.

The man stared back at him, glassy-eyed.

Elias fell backwards, realization giving way to shock. The man was dead.

He didn't know what to do.

How to explain why he was here? What he'd been doing at Edenwood at this late hour? How could he admit that he'd been peeking through a window while two men fucked each other? With one of them being the closeted chief of police of Eden.

With the cover of darkness his only friend, Elias Montrose retreated back into his old life. It was one more secret he knew he had to keep to himself. Except conflict raged inside him two days later when the town gossip was all about the fiery accident that had claimed the life of Silas Singleton. He'd died when his truck smashed into a tree, turning his body into a charred crisp.

That's when Elias knew something very wrong was living inside the village of Eden.

There very well could be a murderer living amongst them.



Part One

A Father's Secrets

Chapter One



Since his unexpected return to Eden nearly two months ago, Chad Singleton's life had never felt so conflicted, with mysteries piled upon scandals, more questions posed than answers provided. Shadows toyed with him, even when the sun shined down over this picturesque village. At last, though, it seemed a few of these endless puzzles might just reveal their twisted secrets. His grandmother was finally going to speak to the truths she guarded so closely, and she began by pointing to the woman lying in the bed.

Chad could barely find his voice when he said, "Her name is...Mercy?"

"Yes, Chad," his grandmother, Eleanor Harte Singleton said, her tone a mix of reverence and sadness, "and she is your sister."

"My sister." An ordinary word, but also one that sounded so strange on his tongue. He'd never uttered it before, at least not in relation to having one of his own. He was an only child, he always had been, right? But apparently...not. "I'm sorry, this is hard to absorb. Is she older than me, or younger? And why don't I remember..."

Chad's voice trailed off as he looked at the frail creature sitting up in the bed. How could he have no recollection of her? How could he be twenty-nine years of age and not know about a woman with the ironically tragic name of Mercy who spent her years in long-term care at a cold, antiseptic smelling hospital with the haughty name the Hammondsworth Institution? He blinked away tears inside his blue eyes, thinking this moment didn't exist, it couldn't. When he refocused and wiped at his moist eyes, he saw that she was still present, at least physically. The words she had spoken moments ago, it was like they existed in some far away, dream-like state.

"Daddy, help me. Please help me.

What did she mean by that? Did she think he was Silas? He didn't have time to ask. His grandmother was waving her hand, encouraging him to enter the room, suddenly pressing for a reunion he'd never even known was possible. The moment felt hazy, unreal.

Finally Chad said, "Does she know who I am?"

"She knows of you, yes. She's always wanted to meet you."

So Mercy had one thing over him.

"Chad. Don't be afraid. She'll see it in your eyes."

Chad realized he'd not stepped further into the hospital room since his grandmother had informed him of the identity of the woman lying in the bed. He might have wanted to take a step back, rewinding time to when he knew nothing. Except he wanted to know everything, about her and about her life, and how she'd ended up here, but in a room reminiscent of one found inside Edenwood. Lushly decorated with sweeping drapes and classic furniture, even a framed portrait on the wall of some distant Singleton relative turned it into a world unto itself within the cold corridors of the institution. Clearly Mercy Singleton had lived here for quite a while.

Finally Chad took that first step forward, and once he did there was no stopping him. At last he stood before the bed. Staring intently at the woman's features, her long blonde hair, and what he saw was a remarkable resemblance between them, her soft features so similar to his. She might have been beautiful had she lived the life she deserved. Instead, an attempt to add glamour to her existed only from the brushstrokes in her hair and the addition of his grandmother's shiny pearls wrapped around her neck. Delicate fingers ran over the smooth orbs.

"Grandmother, tell me about her. She's not my twin, is she?"

"Oh, no. Mercy is nearly thirty-two."

Chad would be thirty in a matter of weeks. "Why don't I remember her?"

"What happened to her, it was so long ago. You were a baby...only a few months old."

Chad stared at his grandmother, his eyes wide, confused. "What did happen?"

"In good time, Chad, dear. For now, just sit here, say hello."

She patted the edge of the bed, and Chad did as instructed. He saw Mercy zero in on him, as if she'd just noticed his presence. A slight smile crossed her lips, but otherwise her stare remained blank. He tried to imagine what she was thinking, then wondering how much thought she was capable of. She had spoken, but her words had been garbled, almost unrecognizable, her voice quiet and child-like. He reached out a warm hand, thinking to take hers in his. He hesitated before looking over at his grandmother.

"It's okay, Chad. She loves to be held. To be touched. Mercy is very giving."

Another tear formed in his eyes. He felt an overwhelming sense of loss and sorrow, over the kind of life she'd led, and of what had been denied him. None of this made sense. Yet right now he had to think not of himself but of Mercy. So he held her hand, and that's when her smile brightened, her high cheeksbones transforming her appearance. She was lovely, so innocent.

"Hi, Mercy," Chad said. "It's very nice to meet you."

"Daddy," she replied, her voice the softest whisper.

"Grandmother, why does she keep saying that? Does she think I'm Silas?"

"Mercy gets easily confused. Whether you wish to admit it, you do look a bit like him," she said, "in his youth, before the drinking destroyed his looks." Eleanor lopped around the other side of the bed at this point, allowing Mercy to be cocooned by them. She too took hold of her hand, Chad watching as she squeezed it gently, no doubt to Mercy a familiar touch. He could tell the two women shared an intense bond. Mercy was comfortable in her grandmother's presence. "Mercy, dear, I've told you about my beloved Chad. I told you he's seen so much of the world he may as well have circled the globe for you both. Remember I said he recently came home, too? I told you one day you would meet him."

Mercy and Chad locked eyes. Her head tilted to one side, as though she were examining him through her own special, blue-flecked lens. Her eyes were mirrors of his.

"Chad," she spoke, the hard sound of the "Ch" difficult. It came out sounding like "tsad."

"My God, grandmother. How does she know me, and I..." He paused, his mind recalling details of his lonely childhood. The truth he'd known, now exposed as anything but. "You told me I was born eight months after Silas and Tina got married. But that's not even possible...not if Mercy came first."

"Some stories get changed. Rewriting history becomes necessary."

"Grandmother, I feel like my whole life is...a lie."

"Nonsense. You are a Singleton, through and through. Now, sshh with all this. Let's not get into it all now, we don't want to rattle Mercy. Just sit with her."

Chad kept his eyes on his newly discovered sister. He didn't think he could ever look away, not after having missed out on nearly thirty years of being a sibling. How many memories might they have shared, fights and laughs both within the myriad hallways at Edenwood. Would they have been best friends? She could have been his confidante growing up, revealing to her his conflicted feelings about his attraction to men. How might she have guided him, saved him? He might have stayed in Eden his whole life, his sister his tethered bond. She might have even negotiated peace between Chad and Silas.

And Tina, what of their wayward mother, how might her life have been different? They might have been, dare he think, a family. So many crazy questions swirled inside Chad's brain it was like the past two months in Eden drifted away. There was no murderous intrigue surrounding Silas's death, no corporate intrigue at Harte Industries, and no personal drama in his bed. No troubled Elias, no sexy Brett, no wounded Kelt. Everything about him had been stripped away, his past suddenly non-existent. Nothing mattered now except this sweet, damaged creature lying in this bed.

"Mercy," he said again, his words breathy, as though the single word lingered in the stale air. When she continued to stare forward, he turned back to his grandmother. "You said she gets confused and maybe she sees Silas in me. But given what she said...I mean, I don't understand any of this. Why would she ask him for help? Did she remember Silas? Did he even come to visit her?"

"That's part of her story, Chad, dear," she said, a soothing warmth emerging from behind her sparkling green eyes. "For now, I think it's time Mercy gets some needed rest. She tires so easily, especially when meeting new people."

New people. Such a cold phrase considering she and he were family, yet it was hopeful at the same time. It gave promise to tomorrow, a future. He was her brother, she his sister, and yet they knew nothing of each other. That feeling of having lost something precious returned to him, leaving a hollow pit churning in his stomach.

"I think it's time to hear what happened," he said.

Eleanor nodded. "It's a beautiful day outside. What do you say we go for a walk?"

Before they departed the room and returned to the antiseptic smell of the institution, Chad squeezed Mercy's hand, the gesture which she seemed most to respond to. She smiled broadly at him, and said, "Brother." He wondered, sadly, was she merely mimicking the sound she'd heard, or did she understand the deeper connection siblings could share. Chad suddenly felt like nothing else mattered--not his job, not his relationships, not his life. Just his sister.